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Reading Aloud

Yan in retrospect

I had known him for years without taking any notice of him. One of the few men attending village coffee mornings. Sticking out tall. One of the circle of people looking after George and his wife. A figure of a certain importance, being a member of the Parish Council. Believing in social community. Helping organize village affairs. Always friendly to everybody. In a bit of a non-committal way? I wasn’t sure. Never at a loss what to say. Evenly tempered. A bit pally. Putting his arm round ladies’ shoulders. Insisting on kissing them on their cheeks. I disliked that. He didn’t excite me one bit. Nothing spicy or striking or definite about him. I had no interest in any man, except one. It was the time of Nessie. He held my attention entirely.

After that I became aware of Yan. Why? I have no idea. He was the image of a respectable gentleman. Behaving correctly. Complying with the moral code. I, too, was considered a very respectable and trustworthy person. How could I dare set my eyes on him?

The first stage of our relationship was somewhat stormy. He and his wife invited us one evening, the object being to introduce us to a composer. He and I were the only ones really interested. It was the coffee morning next day. I was helping with the coffee behind the counter and he came up to me to discuss my mother’s British citizenship – she was born in Singapore – and events of the last war with me, subjects he was interested in. I heard he had never hated my country. He didn’t notice he was making a nuisance of himself, stopping me from working and being in the way in general. One other helper, my mother’s age, pushed me aside gently thinking “I have to do your work, child!”. It was then that I first took interest in Yan. I found it quite fascinating to look into his eyes with a new kind of openness.

Three days later I was due to see him at a party. I could hardly wait, sleeping badly and indulging myself in all sorts of wild fantasies. The evening came and was utterly uneventful. I sat next to him, but he certainly didn’t give me any particular attention. I looked at his wife thinking “how can I possibly hurt this woman” and at my husband, thinking the same. We had a tiny bit of well-defined flirting, like a bye-bye kiss somewhat nearer his mouth than usual and he calling me “sweetheart” which I didn’t take very seriously – he had done it before. After that I discarded him from my mind.

Nothing happened for two or three months. I had started writing down my memoirs and had come to the stage where I paraded my collection of Englishmen. Wondering who else I could write about, he was an obvious choice. He came to see me, I don’t remember why, shortly afterwards. I read two or three of my little portraits to him, including his own – nothing but complimentary things in it, I didn’t know of anything else, and we had a good laugh together. At one point he held out his hand to me which I eagerly and naturally took. When he got up to leave I went to him and put my left hand onto his shoulder looking into his face and thinking would he kiss me? He did and it was wonderful. He said something about me being a “very, very special person” – I wondered what he meant by that – and left. I felt marvellous for the rest of the day and couldn’t sleep at night. He came again the week after to bring me a book he had promised. I read to him my latest literary output inspired by his last visit, and he was shocked. I imagine he felt responsible. I had prompted him, it is true. He told me there could be nothing more of any kind, absolutely impossible and in fact inconceivable. I smiled all the time, asking him not to worry. When he left I felt a sharp pain.

I didn’t see him for another 3 months and had put him out of my mind a second time. Somebody asked me to translate a text dealing with a musical subject into English. The only person who could help me with this in a sympathetic way was Yan. I had started considering asking him – without any hind thought – when I bumped into him at George’s. He still had an impact on me, I noted, most amazing in fact. How come that he roused all these sensations in me? I seemed to look at him from a certain distance, quite cool, and yet I couldn’t help responding. He agreed to seeing me a few days later. I saw him even before, at a concert in a local school. During the interval he explained to me the view we had out of the window. He stood very near me – I wondered why. His wife hastened to come up to share the view with us. Then he bent down to me and asked: “What time was it you wanted me to come on ….day?” He came on …day and greeted me with a kiss, saying “you’ve been waiting for this for a long time, haven’t you?” Strictly speaking that wasn’t true. Perhaps I should have said so. However, I was enthralled by the power of the moment and said “yes”. He kissed me a second time. I could hardly believe it. We went into the living-room where we had a lovely time sitting next to one another, also doing a bit of work. At one point he said “what have we landed in?” I couldn’t care less. He couldn’t stay indefinitely and the work was not finished, much to my delight, we had to make a second appointment. He duly came and played it cool! I couldn’t believe it! Had he not been enthusiastic only two days ago? Had he not paid me all sorts of compliments, including the one of being an “excellent writer” – I certainly hadn’t asked for that. Now I had to tell him to put his arm round me! I didn’t want much. A bit of a cuddle, a bit of comfort…He was so reluctant. He talked about the village. Imagine the scandal! Imagine his wife! What would she think of him coming to see me all the time, supposed to do translations! And then at his age! He was too old for “that sort of thing”. He shook his head and that was it. He failed to impress me. It felt like being hosed down with cold water and I didn’t like it. We argued a bit either way. At one point he said hurt “why do you say that to me?” I don’t remember what it was. When he left me I must have looked desperate, because he said “don’t look at me like that, especially not in the company of other people”. It was a most terrible blow! I was in despair and had to relieve myself on the spot by writing to a dear friend. I don’t know what he thought…I wrote something about sleeping for a long time and forgetting. That was what I felt like. However, it was unpractical and I had to pull myself together,. I spent a few days philosophizing about life, things we can have and things we can’t. I had obviously hit an obstacle and had to accept it. I felt I was called to make a sacrifice, give up something I dearly wanted. So that was what it felt like – a sacrifice. I had only known the word so far. I put Yan out of my mind for the third time and for good, I was determined.

I took a week or two to come to terms with the new situation. I managed and as a reward, I thought, bumped into Yan in a shop. What an excellent opportunity to make sure he wasn’t hurt. No, he wasn’t, he said, and what a pity he wouldn’t see me tomorrow at some friends’ house, because he and his wife would be away on holiday. I told him he had done me a great service last time I saw him – he was looking at me politely – and wished him a nice holiday. I was much easier now and perfectly willing to accept things as they came along.

Some time later there was a concert in the village. I transported chairs in our useful van and had a helper – Yan! I said to him “fancy driving you” when he turned up and started developing a bit of a heated face, but feeling cool inwardly. We stopped to drop some tickets in somebody’s house and I forgot to disengage the handbrake when we set off again. “I’m un-nerving you,” he said. We took the chairs to the concert hall and tried out the various types of seats. The chairs were close enough together to be called “cnoodling” chairs, I heard. Did I know what that meant, he asked me. I hastened to tell him that we had a verb sounding just like that and it must mean the same, because he demonstrated the English meaning to me. After that we tried a very soft settee. We liked it best of all, except that his back hurt when he got up again. Then I took him home with me, because that was where his car was. He looked around to see, if the children were in sight, but there was only the dog wagging his tail – he wouldn’t mind! “Will that do for a little while?” he asked me. I rashly replied in the affirmative, thinking that “a little while” will soon be over. Little did I know Yan then!
A few weeks passed. I was thinking about him most of the time. Every morning when I woke up I thought I must see him today. I didn’t. I told myself not to be silly. I relieved myself by writing down my feelings and experiences. I had a paper ready in my desk to give him when the time came.
Then we saw him and his wife socially one evening in our house. I produced a little essay about the event with all its secret little happenings. He found it amusing and maybe a little alarming. He told me he had wondered how far I would go having managed to join his fingers under cover of my stole. His remark surprised me, because my impression had been that he didn’t want to let go of my fingers, making me wonder in fact how far he would go.

A few weeks later we had our first musical meeting. He had brought his records and we kept the music going all the time. “Poor composer,” he said. Before he left I gave him the paper I had prepared. He appreciated it and thanked me, pointing out that one passage allowed identification of the people concerned. I eliminated this from my copy and he hid his, so he said, in the depths of his garage.

We had more or less regular meetings from then on. Once he came in a very poor state of health and I administered him homeopathic drops. He had them, kneeling in front of me, from the bottle straight into his mouth. “If my wife saw me like that”, he said. Of course being so tall, I had to get to his mouth somehow. He converted his feet and inches into centimetres for me, so that I had a better idea of his height. It impressed me mightily, nearly as tall as my son in later years.

I could have kept it up with him, dillying and dallying, for a long time. However, he was a busy man and obliging husband. It happened more and more frequently that he had no time. I was disappointed, but didn’t take it too hard in the long run. The only thing that exasperated me were his empty promises. I wrote a little essay about this which I passed on to him. As a result he doesn’t promise me anything any more.

The next village concert came round. Again we transported chairs. His wife was with us this time. He was grateful for my help and I pleased to be useful. His wife was best at stacking a maximum of chairs into the vehicle.

Having one or two things on my mind, I really had no time to think about him much, but was confident he would turn up again. He did. It was lovely to see him. An old acquaintance. Somebody one knows well. Somebody one has a secret understanding with. I didn’t waste time by offering to make tea. It would have reminded him that he had to go home. We talked about our daughters and how best to look after them. I also told him I knew why he didn’t see me more frequently: it was in order to avoid providing me with material to write about! He laughed. It was a remark to his heart! When he left he said we would have some music again, but wouldn’t promise when. I told him I was free any time, being only a housewife. Then I watched him out onto the road – we live on a nasty bend.